by Ian Mann
June 14, 2019
There’s much to admire about the trio’s delicate group interplay and their absorbing compositions.
Marcus Penrose – bass, Will Butterworth – piano, Marco Quarantotto - drums
Aurelius is a London based trio led by the Cornish born bassist and composer Marcus Penrose.
The band was formed in 2015 and also features the pianist Will Butterworth, with whom Penrose has enjoyed a fruitful music relationship dating back as far as 2003. The pair, together with alto saxophonist Seb Pipe, were part of the chamber jazz trio Tournesol, and this line up can be heard on the eponymous “Tournesol” album from 2012. Review here;
Penrose has also appeared in various trio and quartets under Butterworth’s leadership and he shares bass duties with Adam King on Butterworth’s excellent 2011 trio release “Hereafter”. Review here;
Penrose is currently a member of saxophonist Tom Neale’s quartet and he also works with the physical theatre company Spymonkey.
Born in Scotland Butterworth is a musician that I saw playing live on a number of occasions on his regular visits to the Welsh Borders during the period 2008-2011. He performed in such towns as Presteigne, Hay on Wye and Abergavenny in a variety of small group formats – duo, trio, quartet – with a varying cast of musicians that included saxophonists Jake McMurchie and Tom Harvey, bassists Matt Ridley, Marcus Penrose and Adam King and drummers Dylan Howe, Jon Scott and Pete Ibbetson.
Butterworth’s recording début was an eponymous solo piano album released in 2008 on the Music Chamber imprint and this was followed in 2010 by a bold re-imagining of Igor Stravinsky’s “The Rite Of Spring” in a duo setting with drummer Dylan Howe (working under the name Stravinsky Duo).
Butterworth’s first recording in the orthodox piano trio format came in 2011 with the release of the album “Hereafter”. “Live”, a recording of a 2012 trio session at London’s Pizza Express Club featuring Ibbetson and bassist Henrik Jensen, finally saw the light of day in 2015.
In 2017 Butterworth released the quartet album “The Nightingale and the Rose”, a suite based on the children’s story of the same name by Oscar Wilde. The personnel included Pipe, Ibbetson and bassist Nick Pini. Ibbetson was unavailable for the tour promoting the recording and was replaced by the Croatian born Marco Quarantotto, who first worked with Butterworth in 2014 and now seems to have become the pianist’s drummer of choice. Based in London for the last eight years Quarantotto has become a busy presence on the London jazz scene, a versatile and in demand sideman with an extensive and impressive list of credits.
The group name Aurelius is derived from the Roman Emperor and Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius (AD 121 -180) and the album packaging includes a quote from his writings.
“No man can hider thee to live as thy nature doth require. Nothing can happen unto thee, but what the common good of nature doth require”.
The album, which has won the approval of the great American bassist Larry Grenadier, was first released digitally in September 2018 but was only received by the Jazzmann fairly recently following its appearance on CD. It features seven new original compositions, five by Penrose and the other two by Butterworth.
The album commences with Penrose’s composition “At Beenleigh”, a piece that was selected by the All About Jazz website as their ‘track of the day’ back in February 2019. Aurelius describe themselves as “sharing a collective interest in finding beauty in all its forms within the corners of their improvisation and a spirit of limitless possibility”. There’s certainly plenty of beauty in this opening piece with its flowing, crystalline piano, agile bass counterpoint and richly detailed cymbal embellishments. But in accordance with the trio’s mission statement there’s plenty of improvisational rigour too as the trio stretch out, probing more deeply. This is music that extends beyond mere ‘prettiness’.
Butterworth takes over the compositional reins for “Western General” which combines mellifluous melodies with edgy grooves in a manner that suggests the influence of e.s.t yet ultimately sounds nothing like them. Butterworth solos expansively as Quarantotto chatters busily around him with Penrose playing an anchoring role, before the trio eventually rein things back in again. Aurelius tunes have a welcome habit of unfolding in interesting ways, seamlessly incorporating changes of mood and pace during the course of a piece.
Penrose’s “Dunklen Strassen” commences with sampled sound of what I take to be an underground train. The piece itself is meditative and slightly brooding or nostalgic in tone, slowly emerging out of Butterworth’s gentle piano ruminations, Penrose’s complementary bass lines and Quarantotto’s brushed drum commentary. The music becomes busier and more agitated as it proceeds with Quarantotto becoming more animated behind the kit. Gradually the music becomes reflective and lyrical once more, the return of the sampled train noises signalling the end of the journey.
Butterworth’s “Charlie’s Tune” is a gentle ballad distinguished by the composer’s limpid, lyrical piano and Quarantotto’s filigree cymbal work embellishments and delicate brush work.
Penrose re-assumes compositional duties for the rest of the album, commencing with the gently exploratory “December 7th”, an unhurried but consistently absorbing three way exchange of ideas with the members of the trio very much functioning as equals and with an engaging Monk like melodic theme emerging before the close.
“Porthbeor” features a beguiling, folk like melody that forms the basis for the trio’s delicate interplay with the composer’s bass featuring prominently in the arrangement. Interestingly there are few solos as such on the album, the focus being very much on group interaction rather than individual virtuosity.
Finally we hear “Ami Says”, which is introduced by Penrose at the bass and which is centred around his playing and even includes something of a solo, albeit within the context of another intimate and intricate trio performance. Butterworth delivers some gorgeously melodic playing, again demonstrating his classically honed lightness of touch at the keyboard, while Quarantotto’s drumming is once more full of colour and attention to detail.
Aurelius have delivered an impressive début album although the trio’s rarefied approach may be a little too bloodless for some listeners due to the absence of conventional swing. Nevertheless there’s much to admire about the trio’s delicate group interplay and the absorbing compositions of both Penrose and Butterworth.
blog comments powered by Disqus